A Vacation in Time
Have you ever taken a trip somewhere and it turned out to be not what you expected? I know I have. You see pictures in magazines of these beautifully exotic far-off places and get there to find trash on the ground and people everywhere trying to sell you junk trinkets and poorly made tee shirts. The Bahamas is a lot like that. The island itself is beautiful – like say, when you’re flying in on an airplane or cruising up in a boat – but as you start to get a little closer, you find something totally different. Not only that, but just the ‘feel’ of the place isn’t what you expected. The buildings and architecture, the amount of people, sounds, and even the smell!
We took a trip to the Great Smokey Mountains last summer as a family. Now, don’t get me wrong, we actually had a lot of fun, but the experience was nothing like I hoped. I mean, what do you think about when you hear the name, ‘The Great Smokey Mountains?’ I think of sparse population, the Frontier, real mountain men, Nature, trees, wildlife… In reality, it was the exact opposite. It was a total tourist trap teeming with franchised food locations, busy streets, expensive go-cart rides, and clogged sidewalks in front of store after store selling junk… all paved over what I had actually came there for!
I want the quiet, dusty Old West town or the Mountain village overlooking the frontier. I want the river bayou town emanating the spicy smells of the finest cooking, or the Caribbean fishing village where people are nice and time ticks slower… Does my vacation location even exist? I’m not so sure. Times have changed, and there are too many people. If the place is as nice as I dreamt of, someone has noticed and built something there to take advantage of its allure to make easy money. Forget these exotic places… shoot, I just want my quintessential small-town American Main Street with a single-screen movie theater and an ice-cream parlor on the corner! What about an actual ‘working farm’ where a family raises animals and plows the field and all gathers together for dinner? I honestly don’t believe these places exist anymore. They’ve all been paved over.
Lakeside, Ohio is probably the place closet I’ve ever been to something like this. It is a small gated community on the edge of Lake Erie where the buildings are from fifty to one hundred years old and the children can walk down the street by themselves without fear. It has an ice cream parlor, a single screen movie theater, and a pier perfect for taking an evening stroll while watching the sunset. It’s very nice. Trouble is, other folks are aware of this now too and it’s quickly becoming overpriced and overcrowded. We used to go there every year as a family for many, many years but have lately tried to find other destinations, but to no avail.
Another place I found enlightening is Jackson, Wyoming. I visited my cousin Andy there one summer and was very relieved to find most of its natural beauty and appeal still in tacked relative to my hopes. The water was crystal clear, the mountains were grand, and the wildlife was authentic, all of it beautiful… right next to the mega ski resort and down the street from the tourist trap trinket strip. So close, yet so far away.
I want more. I want Real. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ll ever get it. There are just too many people in the world now and they’ve all devoured those places like locusts through the fields. To get what I want, I’d have to go back in time. I’d need a time machine to take me back to the spot along the river where Tom Sawyer docked his boat; to go back to simpler times where folks fished off the pier near the local lighthouse as the sun fades after a quiet day. As of now, the closest thing we have to time machines are memories and stories. We have books to take us back. We have movies to take us back. We have grandparents to regale us with times past and old photographs to fill in the blanks. Even music can whisk us away to another time and place.
If I want to go back to small town America and the quintessential farm, I read John Steinbeck’s book East of Eden. No one can paint a better picture with the completed ‘feel’ like Steinbeck. I listen to the music of the Ink Spots and Billy Holiday when I want to take a trip to back to the romantic optimism of the 40’s and 50’s. To live a moment in a life of someone full of passion and patriotism in a coastal town in Morocco, I watch the movie Casablanca. Honestly for me though, video games are one of the best ways to vacation. Video games today are like books, movies, and music all rolled up into one interactive world. When a video game is well done, you can experience tales and environments of old, first-hand.
Probably the best example of this I can think of is Red Dead Redemption. This game puts you in the boots of a cowboy outlaw in the American Old West around the turn of the century. Sure, the game asks you to engage in shootouts with good-guy / bad-guy sequences, but that’s not the part that keeps bringing me back again and again. What I love most is that the developers of the game created such an immersive, fully-realized, open world environment that when I walk down the dirt road in the middle of town, I feel as close to the real thing as I can get without actually being there. The sound design, music, and the way the environment reacts almost makes me feel like I can feel the dry wind blowing the sounds of the nearby saloon right across my face. Red Dead Redemption really is a masterpiece… But I digress…
Museums like the Dayton Air Museum and even the Natural History Museum in Cincinnati have provided me with fulfilling day-trips. These types of museums take me on vacations of the mind and my imagination is the vehicle. Seeing tiny dioramas of pre-historic Native American villages at the Ohio Historical Society Museum can transport me to another time and place where I can imagine a different life, a life lived at a different pace and a smaller scale; a simple, more provincial time. Even zoos and aquariums provide that momentary getaway for me. Envisioning the nook and cranny houses the coral provide for the creatures can be so much fun. What would it be like to live a day in their fins?
Whether it’s a book or movie, video game or song, museum or zoo, the opportunity for a vacation is never that far away. Sometimes three minute vacations derived from a song can be just as rejuvenating as a week-long vacation to Disney World. There are times when taking a walk in my local park – where sunrays strobe through the leaves and the crickets electrify the air – can affect me more than any overpriced go-cart track ever could. Moments like these are real moments we should devour and embrace.
“What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”